Sly Urban Prankster and challenger of convention
17 State Street
By Carter B. Horsley
William Kaufman Organization was one of the seven major
office building families in
Their buildings were hard to distinguish from one another but the Kaufman buildings stood out not in size but in humor because Melvyn Kaufman, who ran the William Kaufman Organization with his younger brother, Robert, had very strong ideas about urban design and planning. They should not just be work-space containers but places that engage the workers and have a personality and a sense of humor.
Melvyn Kaufman, who died in March 2012 at the age of 87, was a maverick and his rivals considered him something of an oddball, but they also respected the quality of his buildings. He had guts and took big, unconventional gambles in the public interface of his buildings that were otherwise not that much different from those of his competitors.
The first time I met him I walked into his office and he was sitting behind his desk, still, gazing across at a man in a raincoat and hat in a chair across from his desk who looked remarkably like him. It was a very realistic sculpture of him by Duane Hanson.
Kaufman remained silent for what seemed like an eternity
and when he spoke he didn't bother with pleasantries but discussed his
impressions of a recent trip to
He was a non-nonsense guy who took his job of erecting big things obscuring public vistas very seriously.
buildings, he would say, are a humorless matter of
"panels and rails."
His office buildings added questions and, usually, a sense of humor.
most famous "stunt" was the placing of a
full-size sculpture of a Sopwith Camel World War I fighter plane atop
Love seats and sculptures at 77 Water Street
77 Water Street had plenty going on at street level where the entrance was significantly indented to provide room for a large area with large pebbles with metal fish sculptures swimming about, two large hanging sculptures of crushed and compressed metal, a series of bright orange, circular, revolving disks that he referred to as "love-seats, and a full-size wooden mock-up of a country candy store on a platform with a "soft" plastic soda bottle dispensing machine by Claes Oldenburg.
This building proclaimed that Mr. Kaufman was a romantic, a surrealist, a purveyor of kitsch, and a genuine iconoclast and rebel.
Was he thumbing his nose at his august competitors, or was he simply a marketing genius, way ahead of his time?
Humor in architecture is very difficult because it's there the next day and the next. That's a big gamble when you're talking about millions of construction dollars.
Canopies at 127 John Street
Kaufman was no one-trick pony and he soon followed
Digital clock and neon tunnel entrance to 127 John Street
Neon tunnel at 127 John Street
77 Water Street, 127 John Street looked from afar like
a very clean-cut, nice modern, medium-size office building. Its entrance on
Every Kaufman office building was a different experiment.
711 Third Avenue
Big red swing and grove of trees at 777 Third Avenue
Further north at 777 Third Avenenue, Kaufman commission a Theodore Ceraldi to design a Big Red Swing suspended on wires from a building overhang. The angular swing could accommodate several sitters in a gentle sway. Kaufman also decided to create a pleasant little grove of trees near the swing on the sidewalk that clearly was in violation of the city's laws on the 25-foot spacing of sidewalk trees. Let 'em fine me $25! Kaufman roared.
"Contrappunto" sculpture by Beverly Pepper at entrance to 777 Third Avenue
Tree rails and sidewalk benches at 777 Third Avenue
777 Third Avenue
747 Third Avenue
The sidewalk's undulations were soft brick hills that sheltered sitting areas.
If you glance quickly to your side as you go through the revolving door entrances at 747 Third you'll get a peep of a full size sculpture of a naked lady
Passing through the building's revolving door entrances one could quickly sight a glimpse of a realistic statue of a naked lady in the small space between the revolving doors which opened into a large lobby with large exposed piping. The public plaza has recently been "modernized" and the undulations removed, but the naked lady remains.
Footprint grates and stagecoach at 767 Third Avenue with its wooden ground floor window sills
Chessboard with moveable pieces at 767 Third Avenue